Why I refuse to give my toddler a 'bedtime'

Mar 14, 2016 at 9:15 a.m. ET
Image: Lina Aidukaite/Getty Images

My toddler’s preferred wake-up time is around nine in the morning. She also prefers staying up until the ungodly hour of past 10. It used to be earlier in the evening, usually after my older daughter went to bed at eight.

I’ve never attempted to attempt a bedtime routine with the little one. I’ve always felt like it was a whole lot of effort and not much payoff. The kid’s gonna go to sleep when she’s tired enough to, no matter how much calming lavender scent I surround her with.

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When my 8-year-old was in her first and second year, our entire day was a regimen of the strictest schedule with only one goal in mind: to get her to sleep by 8.30 p.m. I thought I wasn’t a good mom unless my kid had a normal sleep schedule. When she stopped napping around 12 months old, I stressed over her not getting those extra hours. She woke up at dawn and didn’t stop until I painfully spent the evening trying to convince her to lie still long enough to go to sleep.

Every day ended in the same routine of dinner, bath, stories, then lying with her in bed, or patting her back until she fell asleep. Some nights I was out of there four or five hours after we began our descent into bedtime.

But my older daughter was a bit of a different breed of child than my second. I was there to fulfill her needs while she gained her independence. My second has been a little different.

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At first, having a baby who was happiest sleeping on my lap with an exposed nipple at her disposal was sweet, organic even, while I worked from home. It was easier for her to set her own schedule.

As she got busier, I tried, for a while, to get her into a routine. I discovered that no matter how much I struggled to wrangle her into bed, the hour or two I spent was all for naught. She fell asleep when she was tired, and my level of exhaustion shot up rapidly in my struggle to will her eyes to close. I gave up quickly on a set bedtime. What was the use for me to spend all this energy at the time I was most tired to convince her to sleep, when she’d naturally fall asleep anyway?

I realize this goes against most articles on sleep training. As parents, we’re expected to manipulate our children into having a schedule where they are meant to sleep for a pre-determined amount of hours. As a single mom with two kids, it was too much. While my older daughter prides herself in preparing for bed, playing her CD, and reading books on her own, my toddler played, or ate, and eventually showed signs she was tired enough to sleep, so I put her to bed.

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With my older daughter, struggling through the bedtime routine, having her resist and sometimes physically fight me on it, only left me emotionally drained and feeling like a failure. When really, for some unknown reason, she just wasn’t tired at 8 o’clock that night. Maybe it would have saved us a lot of heartache in battling each other if I’d just watched her for physical cues that she was tired, and put her to bed when she was ready.

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